DEA BIRKETT Resetting ‘the norm’

Dea Birkett wants to be surprised as she celebrates the Edinburgh Fringe

It’s my 20th Edinburgh Fringe, but I’m not the only one celebrating. The Fringe is 70, and although it has “defying the norm” as this significant anniversary year’s slogan , the Fringe has become the norm. What happens in a venue here is more likely to be in the middle of its artistic journey rather than at the very be- ginning. I have already been to several shows that boast they have been running for over 20 years. Shakespeare for Breakfast is in its 26th Edinburgh run, as anarchic as ever and still the best way to start a Fringe day. This year the play that’s being butchered is Macbeth, and the killer-hard croissants aren’t only handed out to the audience on arrival (along with tar tea) but also feature in the wonderful reworking of the play’s weaponry.

Being a bit bonkers is a theme of this year’s festival, with clowns of all sorts and traditions enjoying a welcome comeback. Dutch band Werenband Slapstick don’t do world music (which is what their name means in Dutch) nor slapstick. They play on and play with 99 musical instruments, dance in boaters, mime and sing Scaramouche in German for no reason at all, in the tradition of musical clowns. They are wonderfully difficult to put into a single art form category – I’ve no idea where to find them in the 70th Fringe programme. What they do is, to UK audiences at least, new. But they’ve been musically mucking around together for 20 years in Holland. So why hasn’t such a wonderful mash up of the traditional never been seen here before? Perhaps because the fact it’s a fabulous mess counts against it. In programming, categories are crucial.

Comic clown Spencer Jones faces similar artistic hurdles, impossible to put in any one box. He’s not a standup – he’s far too physical for that. He’s not a clown – he relies on spoken language too much. He’s not physical theatre – he’s too silly. But he’s definitely brilliant, using nothing but a case of oranges and a vibrating plat- form for props. In his white tights and doctor’s white coat, he reminds us of a Shakespearean fool, as do his wise words mixed with mad gesturing. You’re unlikely to find a finer performance in a basement bar, fittingly called the Monkey Barrel.

Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Women also refuses to be t into neatly anyone’s funding stream. Like a Ted- X talk with tampons (or without one, when you need one), show woman Marisa Carnesky and her ferocious female tribe create a manifesto for menstruation which includes academic lecture, lm, performance art and even hair hanging.

Thank goodness there are creations like this, which allow me to see all that in an hour. After a few days in Edinburgh, I’m already rather bored by shows that are easy to categorise. The significant dramas with a single middle-aged male actor shaking with indignant rage in a way he was taught to in drama school 25 years ago; the contemporary circus show which stretches to find meaning in a slow silk act or three people standing on each other’s shoulders, accompanied by a poignant play- list; the oh-so-audacious late night cabaret where a man dressed in pink saying “I’m gay” out loud is supposed to be shocking. This is the 70th anniversary, after all, and things should have moved on.

Then along comes Hot Brown Honey, from the same Australian production team that brought us Briefs. It’s unfair to categorise this show, but let’s call it lesbian Aboriginal cabaret, which probably puts it in a category of its own. Women of all shapes and sizes rattle and roar, shaking their ample bodies and shaking up the audience. More dildos than didgeridoos, it confounds what we expect from an indigenous Australian performance.

What I want at the Fringe is to be surprised. Let’s hear it for those who can’t fit into a category.

Dea Birkett is Ringmaster at Circus250



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